The front entrance where you come straight into the café really feels connected to the community. When I first arrived it was fairly quiet but by the time I left it was absolutely alive with people, including those who lived at the home going off to lunch with relatives or friends. It was interesting to hear that the café is being used by people who live locally because there isn’t that facility in the immediate area. The care home is actually creating a resource over and above what’s available in the wider community.
At Middlefields House we have a household model, with 48 ‘family members’ living in four households of 12. What struck you about this?
I think the household model at Middlefields House has real meaning to it. Sometimes care home providers say ‘we’re running household models’ and the doors are different and the wallpaper’s different and nothing else. This felt like it was people’s home. They had an identity as being part of that particular household. It was very clear that care was very person-centred rather than task-oriented. I didn’t see a single person writing notes, I didn’t see people under pressure rushing around. There were a lot of people and every one had a smile on their face. To see the more public and communal spaces in use was positive. Very often you’ll see spaces like these that aren’t really being used. But what you’ve done is created some smaller spaces that are a bit more intimate. If people just want to meet with two or three people they can do that and it’s quiet and there are no other distractions.
I also loved the Hummingbird role. For me it’s a very affirming role and could be a great introduction for people who aren’t experienced in care. As a Hummingbird, you’re not linked with one person all the time, but become very familiar with lots of people. I like that.
I think there is a huge role for volunteers in the care sector, and often faith-based organisations are very good at creating an environment that volunteers can be part of, including building intergenerational links with local people.
Personally, what inspired you to become a champion for older people?
My mother is an occupational therapist and she was a big influence on me. She worked in a large psychiatric hospital in Cane Hill in Surrey, and I would spend time there during the summer. I saw what institutional living was like and definitely had a sense of ‘there must be a better way to do things’. This was around the time when people in those kinds of settings were suddenly getting a voice. There was very influential work going on in the disability movement. The phrase that was hit upon was ‘does he take sugar?’ That was used to demonstrate just how ignored disabled communities were; someone is capable of giving their own preference, but everybody looks to the carer.
I am a classic voluntary, charity advocate. I’m not of faith – my faith is in humanity and people and I think I’ve got a contribution to give to communities. I’m very much driven by a sense of social justice. I think people should be able to have the best and most fulfilling life that they can. Where we can do something about it, I want to get involved.
Sadly, there are people who have an absolutely rubbish experience of working in care. What you need to show them is ‘There is working in care and there is working for Pilgrims’ Friend Society and they are different things.’ Rali and her colleagues are clear advocates of what they offer. I also think it’s about thinking more flexibly, giving potential staff the opportunity to try out the role before they commit. When it comes to younger staff, we may need to accept that care is something they do for three or four years and then they go on to do something else, and we shouldn’t be disappointed by that, but rather build a training programme that caters for it.